Double Feature: Antlers (2021) & Underwater (2020)

Antlers (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Scott Cooper

Cast: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan, Sawyer Jones

In an isolated Oregon town, a middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother become embroiled with her enigmatic student, whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with an ancestral creature. – IMDB

Adapted from Nick Antosca’s short story The Quiet Boy who also co-writes the screenplay, Antlers is a slow-burn and gory horror film. The story dives into a small town which keeps the scope fairly small with a close-knit community and the story revolving a few people. The setting filmed in British Columbia in place for the Oregon town is one that fits the scenario incredibly well which emphasizes not only the vastness of the area but also fits in the creature very well. The execution of the unknown creature being a big highlight here especially since it never truly reveals its full form. The atmosphere of the film also takes a huge part of the effort to give the more creepy vibe. As with most films with endangered child(ren) being in the picture, this film plays around with the role the kids play here and the effect this creature is having on them.

Antlers spends a lot of time with its characters, the main one being Julia played by Keri Russell who is a child abuse victim and is trying to find ways to live with her brother Paul who doesn’t seem to truly understand her trauma and her recovery. Not believing and trusting her creates the moments here when Julia’s concern for a student in her class that she believes is going through more than the norm to eventually believing it has to do with a legendary Algonquin demon which gets dismissed by Paul who also asks her to not get close to Lucas’s father Frank. The character dynamic here plays a big connection to the plot and while Julia’s story isn’t overly focused on, it still bridges the gap of how she is suspicious of Lucas’s abuse and to protect him.

What makes Antlers so good and is somewhat of a spoiler is how it turns the story around a bit from the expectations. Anyone looking at this film would think its most probably a creature feature, which it is but its also about demonic possession which works itself in its own intricate way in this story leading to its open ending where most things are resolved but maybe what seems to be gone isn’t really gone. Cliffhanger endings really aren’t my thing but at least, it feels like the film cleverly did a circle of events from the first scene to the last, whether they meant it that way or not.

Underwater (2020)

Director: William Eubank

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Mamoudou Athie, T.J. Miller, John Gallagher Jr., Jessica Henwick, Gunner Wright, Fiona Rene, Amanda Troop

A crew of oceanic researchers working for a deep sea drilling company try to get to safety after a mysterious earthquake devastates their deepwater research and drilling facility located at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. – IMDB

Something about the deep sea is always very scary. Underwater sets itself on a drilling facility in the Mariana Trench and the rumors of what lies in the deep dark depths are completely unknown making it a fantastic location for a horror film. Underwater is a few genres blended together and done in a pretty good way as it progresses. It starts out as a deep sea disaster film with a time crunch to exit before the whole facility goes down and slowly turns itself into a creature feature. In both genres, the film is executed pretty well and the tense atmosphere is also very much apparent. The deep ocean holds a lot of dangers from the controlling the pressure, the water element and of course, what swims outside which does seem to take a few similar moments of other horror films but still manages to deliver on a rather thrilling experience.

If we look at the execution, there are so many little details to love about this film. Right from the opening credits, it glides through newspaper articles at the beginning and the end. The beginning sharing the details the audience needs to know about where the crew is, why they are there and what the facility is about. Its give the details of the dangers and risks of being this environment that they could encounter while also delivering the map and situation the crew is about to face. It means nothing to the audience at this point but looking back, it was such a clever way to introduce the film. Doing this gives it the perfect set-up to get right into the disaster and not waste any time at all. Much like its ending, which wraps up in the same way like the film is actually recounting a top secret event as it talks about its survivors and the aftermath through its articles as well.

Underwater is powered by a pretty solid cast. Each character does have their own little character traits that drive them throughout the film. Kristen Stewart has truly been delivering some pretty great performances and showing the diversity and depth of her acting abilities and she leads the group here as Norah the mechanical engineer and the film is basically from her point of view as it follows her throughout the film. As she reunites with the survivors, the other crew starts coming in with the Captain being played by Vincent Cassel, who delivers almost a Titanic moment as he believes in going down with the vessel and has a pretty interesting backstory which has something of a test reveal at the end. T.J. Miller play something of a comedic relief however his character might be the weak link here as it sometimes feels not too necessary however, it does give him this odd character. Previously known for playing Colleen in Iron Fist, Jessica Henwick shows up in this one as a biologist and is one of the more nervous characters of the group. Much like the engineer Smith played by John Gallagher Jr. who tends to pop up in films and always reminds me how underrated he is as an actor considering he delivered some great performances before in 10 Cloverfield Lane (review) and Hush. While not too key to the whole thing, Mamoudou Athie is one of the smaller roles here however, he has been showing up on my watchlist of 2022 a couple of times already. While no one’s character is very deep, most of them feel very real especially faced with making the difficult decisions and sudden mishaps and faced with lots of death and unknowns, especially for Kristen Stewart’s Norah who genuinely feels like she is trying her best to hold it together.

Overall, Underwater is a pretty thrilling experience. It starts off right away in its quick-paced disaster moment and while there are some quiet and slow moments, the unknown dangers lurking creates the creepy and tense atmosphere needed to drive this film throughout. Some of the elements here do feel a little been there done that but it does have some good execution. The deep sea is a scary place and the mysterious danger here is executed pretty well.

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